Its Been a Long Strange Trip for MacKenzie

By Associated PressJanuary 4, 2007, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Will MacKenzie must feel like he's in paradise.
Walking along the fairways of Kapalua, he can't keep his eyes off the waves below and the dozens of surfers in the water. In the distance he can see the Ritz-Carlton, knowing he doesn't have to sneak past security guards to jump in the pool or grab a shower. He gets to stay in the hotel this week, instead of sleeping in the back of his van.
First place at the winners-only Mercedes Benz-Championship pays $1.1 million, last place gets $50,000, and MacKenzie doesn't have to wash any dishes to get his hands on that.
'I told myself when I got in this,' he said. 'Don't come over here and finish last. Let's get a big piece of that cake.'
MacKenzie's story reads like any other golfer from his childhood to now. He was among the best juniors, traveling the country during his summers to play in tournaments with guys like Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Justin Leonard. He made it through Q-school on his first try, and won his first PGA TOUR event in his second year.
It's the part in the middle that makes him stand out in this sport.
Way out.
Not many other players quit the game in high school, skipped college and moved to Montana on a whim. No one else at the PGA TOUR's season opener spent five years sleeping in the back of his van and feeling like he had it made.
He washed dishes at a hotel to earn money for the ski lift. He went a month without a shower in Alaska when he was heliboarding. He figures he cheated death a half-dozen times either rock climbing or in a kayak. Even now, he has limited feeling in toes from frostbite.
Life could not have worked out any better.
'I burned out sooner than later, and I think that's probably a blessing for me,' the 32-year-old MacKenzie said this week. 'If I had gone to college and done that, who knows? I might be right where I am now. But I might have burned out in college and not be here.'
MacKenzie is a PGA TOUR winner now, but that hasn't changed him. He brought his surfboard to Maui, and spent the first three days at Ironwood Beach, pursuing a passion that will never leave.
Adam Scott was with him one afternoon, and thought he was nuts.
'He's got no fear,' Scott said. 'There's a reef under there, and I just saw him go face-first off the top of the wave. And I'm like, 'Oh, Will.' I was waiting for him to come up with a mouthful of teeth. He's fun. He's a fun guy making a racket out there.'
Ask him about his life, and MacKenzie makes it sound like it's no big deal.
'I moved to Montana when I was 19 and snowboarded, kayaked and rock-climbed and worked,' he said. 'That's all I did, every day. And I had a nice little trip to Costa Rica where I surfed for three months in '99. That was very, very, very nice. Then I started playing golf again ... to see if I sort of fell back in love with the game, which I did.'
He fell out of love when he was 14 when he realized it consumed his summers, leaving him no time for fishing, barefoot skiing and being on a mountain in North Carolina. His last two summers, he headed for the Carolina beaches and slept in his van.
And when it was time to leave the nest, man, did he fly.
MacKenzie took Interstate 40 looking for his paradise. Taos? Nah. Durango, Telluride, Crystal Butte? Not quite. Salt Lake City wasn't for him. He stopped for two weeks and worked at Taco Bell to earn some cash and keep going, through Jackson Hole, Wyo., and finally settling in Big Sky, Mont.
'I was like, 'This is the spot,'' he said.
Some may have considered his lifestyle 'roughing it'; for MacKenzie, it was a Ritz-Carlton. Living in his van, cashing a few paychecks from doing the dishes at either the Huntley Lodge or Allgood's Bar and Grill, he thought he was living large.
'I had hot tubs, jacuzzis, pools, access to the lodge ... sort of sneaking around a little bit, maybe,' he said with a grin.
What brought him back to golf is equally amazing.
On his way from Costa Rica, he stopped by his home in North Carolina and watched Payne Stewart, one of his favorite players, win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He went out to his parents' barn and found his Cleveland blades gathering dust.
'I went out and hit some balls and just sort of pured it,' he said. 'I had some fire in me because of the Payne win. I went to my dad and said, 'What do you think? I want to go tee it up.''
He set a goal of making it to the PGA TOUR, and stuck with it.
MacKenzie won a few times in the North Carolina mini-tours, arranged for some financing from friends at home and went to Florida for more mini-tours, where he competed against Patrick Sheehan and Bart Bryant. Then he chopped it around Canada, the Hooters Tour and finally felt like it was worth giving Q-school a shot. And he made it.
He lost his card the first year, earned it back at Q-school, then had only one top-10 last year -- a one-shot victory over Bob Estes in the Reno-Tahoe Open. He wound up 100th on the money list with $879,965, which is more than he ever made washing dishes.
He still kayaks, and goes all out on a snowboard or surfboard. But this is now his life.
And he loves it.
'I'm all golf now,' MacKenzie said.
And as good as he seems to have it -- a courtesy Mercedes-Benz, butler-drawn baths at the Ritz -- listening to him go over his adventures, you get the idea life was never bad.

Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Mercedes-Benz Championship
  • Golf Channel Airtimes

    Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

    DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

    Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

    One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

    Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

    Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

    Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

    He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

    ''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

    ''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

    ''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

    ''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

    Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

    ''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

    ''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

    Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

    Getty Images

    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

    Getty Images

    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

    Getty Images

    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.